International Symposium 2009

Local History Goes Global!

International Symposium

Institute of Historical Research, 7-8 July 2009

‘Has globalisation made local history more, rather than less, relevant?’, and ‘people do not have Roots, they have feet’, were just two of the comments from delegates who attended an International Symposium convened by the VCH and held at the Institute of Historical Research on 7-8 July 2009. The aim of the symposium was to find out how everyone ‘does’ local history in their particular place, and to look for synergies, common problems, and areas of good practice. Plenaries were given by Professor Chris Dyer of Leicester and Dr Carol Kammen of Cornell University, and workshop sessions were devoted to local history in different parts of the world (North America, Europe, the British Isles, South Africa, Australia and Japan). Professor Claire Cross represented BALH, and Robert Howard attended on behalf of Local History Magazine. We were able to learn from each other, and to think through some key questions.

Perhaps the most obvious conclusion was that local history depends on where you are and who you are? After Chris Dyer had struggled with the problems of finding regions in England, a country with a set of borders that have not been challenged for a thousand years, Professor Katalin Szende of the Central European University, Hungary, pointed to a quite different challenge – local history in a country which has changed its borders several times in the past century, and has had to handle having part of its indigenous population now living beyond its historic boundaries, as well as various language constraints, and the enforced change of historical direction under the Communist regime. Less cataclysmic, but still challenging, was Dr Andrew Edwards’ discussion of the ‘nationalisation’ of Wales, and what this meant in terms of ‘local’ history. We learnt about the influence of the Roman Catholic church on Irish local history, and the impact for local history on the role of settler communities, both in undermining existing cultures and imposing their own, in South Africa and Australia.

There was much more in two stimulating days of discussion, including a teleconference session with a contributor from Australia, and extracts from an episode of The Simpsons in respect to what it was saying about Public History. Where, indeed, do local historians stand in relation to Public History, or to family history? And what is, or should be, the relationship between professional local historians, in the university or the public history sector, and amateurs?

Participants agreed to constitute themselves as an informal ‘International Local History Group’, and to consider meeting again in a couple of years, this time with a common theme, perhaps centring around the idea of how national issues impact on the practice of local history. Readers wanting to read some of the papers can download them at the foot of this page.

We would like to extend many thanks to the Institute of Historical Research, the Economic History Society and the Sarah D'Avigdor Goldshmid Trust for their financial support of this inaugural event.